Amnesty International Report 2016/17 - The State of the World's Human Rights - Macedonia

Prosecutions following the 2015 revelations of high-level corruption were slowed down by political infighting while witness protection was limited. Roma faced discrimination in accessing basic rights and services. Refugees and migrants were routinely pushed back at the border with Greece or faced detention in poor facilities in Macedonia.

Background

The political crisis prompted by the publication in 2015 of audio recordings revealing government corruption and widespread illegal surveillance continued. A transitional technical government composed of majority and opposition MPs was formed after a political agreement was brokered with EU and US assistance.

In April, the President announced a pardon for 56 high-level political figures under investigation for their involvement in the wire-tapping scandal. The pardons were revoked by the President in June following a wave of protests dubbed the “colourful revolution”.

Parliamentary elections eventually took place in December after being called and postponed several times. The previous ruling party (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity) returned to power. The main opposition party, narrowly failing to acquire the majority of votes, disputed the end result.

Justice system

The Special Public Prosecutor appointed by Parliament in September 2015 to investigate officials involved in the wire-tapping scandal and crimes by political figures continued to face pressure in carrying out her work. In October, the transitional Parliament rejected a proposal to extend the Prosecutor’s June 2017 deadline for concluding all investigations and to improve access to witness protection services for witnesses involved in her office’s investigations.

Discrimination – Roma

In September, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) communicated to Macedonia a complaint in relation to 53 Roma individuals who challenged their forced eviction from the “Polygon” settlement in Skopje in August which left them in tents and makeshift shelters on the outskirts of the capital.

About 600 refugees, mainly Roma, who had fled Kosovo in 1999-2000, remained at risk of losing their access to livelihoods and other rights as the authorities continued to revoke their right to stay in the country on dubious grounds related to national security. By the end of the year, over 80 of them (including 30 children) had their protection status withdrawn after failing routine security checks carried out as part of the annual renewal of their temporary protection status. The substance of the security assessments was not shared with applicants and could not be challenged in courts. A Roma woman whose protection status was not renewed subsequently lodged an appeal at the ECtHR.

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

In early March, the Ministry of Interior announced the closure of the country’s southern border with Greece, thereby preventing the arrival of refugees and migrants to the country (see Greece entry). Until their eviction in May, thousands were stranded in the Idomeni makeshift camp on the Greek side of the border. Throughout the year, the authorities continued to return refugees and migrants summarily to Greece, sometimes violently. UNHCR,  the UN refugee agency, did not register official new arrivals following the March border closure, as refugees and migrants barred from entering the country were pushed back or continued their journeys into Macedonia clandestinely.

In September, eight complainants from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan submitted an application to the ECtHR to challenge their summary expulsion in March from Macedonia to Greece.

Also in September, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized the authorities for leaving hundreds of refugees and migrants – who had arrived before the border closure – stranded in inadequate transit centres at the southern and northern land borders and in the Gazi Baba detention centre for foreigners in Skopje. The de facto detention of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers continued to be implemented without lawful grounds and without detainees being able to challenge the legality of their detention.